Washington, D.C., November 10 1999 — Creating human capacity in the developing world to enable institutions and individuals to be more than users of the new information technology can address critical development needs of some of the poorest parts of the world.
His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims today addressed industry leaders, government officials and development executives from around the world at the World Bank on applying information technology to the problems of human capital and development needs. According to the Aga Khan, it is only by positioning users to shape content and applications, that the full potential of this technology will be realised and its perceived threat to their cultures addressed.
Lauding World Bank President James Wolfensohn's promotion of culture as a dimension of development, the Aga Khan said "for too long, culture was dismissed as either irrelevant or elitist, or was seen as an obstacle to development." The Aga Khan went on to describe how his experience in reviving interest in architectural traditions of the Muslim world had led to the premiation of buildings and spaces "designed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike [that] address some of the most intractable problems of our age: rapid urbanisation, the "slumification" of the rural built environment, management of historic structures and public spaces and shelter for the very poor."
The Aga Khan outlined three model ventures which President Wolfensohn characterised as "bridging the gap between technology and humanity."
Introducing ArchNet, an Internet-based network being developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, the Aga Khan explained how it will provide students and professionals around the world with a globally accessible resource on architecture, urban design and related issues such as restoration, conservation and housing design and construction. Structured to offer each user a personal workspace tailored to his or her individual needs, ArchNet will enable users around the world to contribute to a central resource base maintained by MIT Press, a leader in electronic publishing. Partner institutions of learning around the Muslim world will get hardware, software, training and infrastructure support and will help shape its scope and direction. The Aga Khan noted that ArchNet would permit collaboration across countries sharing cultures, economic circumstances, climatic and geographical characteristics.
Health maintenance and HIV and AIDS in a tropical region were challenges for which the international Aga Khan University's Advanced Nursing Programme in East Africa was being designed. Using computer-based information technologies to link East African centres with the University's School of Nursing in Pakistan, the Programme will enhance the clinical and managerial competence of nurses from the primary to the tertiary levels of care. The Programme, according to the Aga Khan, would "serve as a model of effective educational cooperation between two parts of the developing world" and "enhance the status of women by making them indispensable partners in societal advancement."
The Central Asian University at Khorog, Tajikistan will be the first teaching and research institution to focus exclusively on the needs and potentials of 20 million people living marginalised existences in poor isolated mountain communities. It will, according to the Aga Khan, entail "the aggressive use of information and communication technology to allow undergraduate and graduate students from …Central Asia to have access to a world of knowledge and information without leaving settings that are familiar." Recalling the situation of "thousands of persons…whose skills must be updated if they are to survive professionally in the post-Soviet era," the Aga Khan stressed that "a market economy and civil society call for many new skills. "Unless those beyond university age are simply to be abandoned," he cautioned, "they too must have an opportunity to acquire such skills."
The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions with specific mandates that range from health and education to rural development, the built environment and the promotion of private sector enterprise. The agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. The Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.
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